The Robe (1953)

Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Michael Rennie,
In the Roman province of Judea during the 1st century, Roman tribune Marcellus Gallio is ordered to crucify Jesus of Nazareth but is tormented by his guilty conscience afterwards.
  • 6.8 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Philip Dunne, Gina Kaus, Lloyd C. Douglas, Albert Maltz, Writer:
  • Henry Koster, Director:
  • Frank Ross, Producer:


8/10 / 10

The Robe comes from a tradition of historical biblical fiction about aperipheral incident and/or character. It is in the same vein as Ben-Hurand Barabbas, films adapted from a similar source.

In this case it is Jesus's robe that he wore to the crucifixion. It isrecorded that while He was on the cross waiting to die, Roman soldiersidled their time away by casting dice for the only possession He tookto his death, his robe. The lucky winner turned out to be RichardBurton, a tribune recently sent on assignment because of a running feudwith the Emperor to be.

The run in with Caligula was over a slave purchased by Burton, a Greeknamed Demetrius played by Victor Mature. Both Burton and Mature areexiled to Judea and they arrive just in time to see Jesus enterJerusalem. Mature becomes converted to Jesus's teachings and Burton isdriven mad by the enormity of what he has participated in.

The Robe was written by Lloyd C. Douglas who was an ordained Lutheranminister and who turned to writing at the age of 50 with his first bestseller Magnificent Obsession. His writings were of the Christianinspirational variety and he was a very popular American writer rightup to his death in 1951.

Richard Burton got one of his Academy Award nominations for his role.Jean Simmons as Diana who was the main source of his rivalry withCaligula gives a good understated performance of the woman who stood bythe man she loved and his fate and passed up a chance to be an Empress.

Jay Robinson as Caligula got most of the notice. Although John Hurt inthe I Claudius series is probably now the definitive Caligula,Robinson's performance holds up very well indeed. A substance abuseproblem curtailed a promising career and though he did come back it wasnot the same.

The Robe was 20th Century Fox's first film in its new wide screenprocess of Cinemascope and really should be seen in a letter boxversion at home. Richard Burton is always good and elevates whateverfilm he's in.

Though in this case the subject matter is elevated just about as highas it can get.

10/10 / 10

I have probably seen this film over 100 times, and I never tire of itnor does it fail to inspire my love of faith even more. Although thefocus is not on Jesus directly, it is through the great talents of theactors, writers and director that the focus IS placed back on Jesus'effect on the lives of the movie characters.

There is not a single performer in this film who is not brilliant.Richard Burton turns in a superb & convincing performance as Marcellus,the Roman tribune whose life is a meaningless series of women and wineuntil fate gives him faith. And there is no more beautiful actress everthan Jean Simmons as Diana. (I even named my only daughter Dianabecause of the effect that this character had on me as a child; Dianadefined beauty to me.) But my favorite by far was Victor Mature'sDemetrius, a role which was so beloved at the time, that the sequel ofDemetrius and the Gladiators began filming soon after The Robe wasreleased to critical and popular acclaim. Mr. Mature's portrayal ofDemetrius, a Greek slave who would only see Jesus, yet be changedpermanently by His glance, helped develop my faith in me as a child.

All of the other performances are excellent and uplifting. It is agreat movie to watch with the family and explain all the different waysfaith was given to each of the characters. It is a visually stunningfilm, with beautiful and haunting music (score by Hollywood musicalgenius Alfred Newman), and one that stands the test of time (I've beenwatching it for over 40 years.)

10/10 / 10

I am a big fan of these types of movies. I love movies like Ben-Hur,The Greatest Story Ever Told, Samson and Delilah, and Spartacus. Themovies that took place in ancient Rome had so much going for them. Theyhad great actors, directors, cinematography, and music. They also neverneeded to use computer animation. I was always very pleased. Only Ican't say I was pleased with the Romans wearing purple and black inGladiator. But anyway, this movie has it all. There is nothing I cansay that's bad about it. It has a great story that pulls you in. Whenyou watch it you feel as if you are there. You feel everything that theactors are feeling and the music helps to set the mood.

Jay Robinson is pretty good as Caligula, but sometimes he is way tooover the top. His performance as Caligula was better in Demetrius andthe Gladiators. Jean Simmons is a very good actress. I like her a lotin this movie and in Spartacus. I think she deserved some type ofrecognition. Victor Mature was very good too. Michael Rennie wasanother good actor in this movie. He seemed so perfect as Peter. Theone that stood out was Richard Burton. He did a great job. I could goon and on because the whole cast was great. I read that Tyrone Powerwas originally approached for the lead. I think he could've pulled itoff. He was a very underrated actor.

I have many favorite parts. I love the scene when Victor Mature istrying to find Jesus so he can warn him and he runs into to someone. Iwon't say who. I like the crucifixion scene. It was very well done andVictor Mature shows his great acting in the scene. I love the scenewhen Richard Burton finds the robe. He was afraid of it, but when heholds it close it has an effect on him. The ending is outstanding. Itis well acted and ends happily. Burton without a doubt deserved hisAcademy Award nomination. Sometimes he overacts in scenes when he isyelling, but other times he really looks like he belongs in the role.This movie probably didn't win much because there was so muchcompetition. Many other great movies were there. From Here To Eternity,a big favorite of mine, and Shane, another big favorite of mine, werenominated. The actors that were up for it were all favorites of minetoo. I can't really decide who deserved it. Burt Lancaster andMontgomery Clift were both great in From Here to Eternity. It's toughfor me to choose between those two and Richard Burton.

Everything about this movie is great so be sure to check it out. I canwatch it over and over and never get sick of it. Check out thisclassic, this epic. It has it all. The Robe is a timeless classic. Youwill not be disappointed.

6/10 / 10

There seems to be little interest in this movie today but whenoriginally released in 1953, it created a sensation and threatened, fora while, to replace "Gone With the Wind" as the highest-grossing filmin history. And it was the first movie in CinemaScope -- "The ModernEntertainment Miracle You See Without the Use of Glasses!" Its openinghalf still plays well, even some 50 years later, but the second halftries to convincingly present the religious conversion of Marcellus --a tricky proposition since it deals with an internal process -- and theresult plays like a well-intentioned but rather simplistic Sundaysermon. Richard Burton was Oscar-nominated for his work but is clearlyoutshone by, of all people, Victor Mature as the slave, Demetrius. Thescene of a sweaty, nearly naked Demetrius groaning and writhing undertorture in a Roman dungeon helped establish Mature as "the back thatlaunched a thousand whips." (The book "Lash! The Hundred Great Scenesof Men Being Whipped in the Movies" is dedicated to him.) Mature playedDemetrius again in one of the rare big-budget sequels of the 1950s,"Demetrius and the Gladiators," which wasn't very good but which waslivelier and more "fun" than its pious predecessor.

7/10 / 10

The Robe (1953) is interesting on at least two counts: (1) the filmtakes its place as the first ever CinemaScope theatrical release and istherefore worthy of close study by all motion picture students; and (2)the film depicts the Passion of Christ, (as the inciting action thattriggers the subsequent plot development), and as such, threads thatpart of the storyline with a genre stretching back over 1,000 years,where we find the first extant Passion Play scripts (other than theGospel records themselves, of course). This again makes the film worthyof study by film students and theologians alike.

The story of Christ on film is more important historically than may atfirst might appear. At either two or three reels, the first ever full"feature film" is arguably claimed to be the "The Passion Play" (1898),filmed in New York in 1897. The 'greatest story ever told' has hit thescreen regularly thereafter, perhaps most famously in recent years withMel Gibson's masterly personal tribute, "The Passion of the Christ"(2004).

I will now comment briefly on some of the technical and visual aspectsof "The Robe". The camera work majors on long shots, and it isinteresting to analyse how each shot is framed for all that width ofscreen. The camera is mostly static, and shots have longer than averageduration; the compositions really are not designed for a lot ofmovement. This gives the film that famous "epic" style that goes forthe grand sweep, both visually, musically and emotionally. There is nota lot of internalisation within the characterisation - it is the(literal) width and scope of the production that grabs attention. Thefilmic style is not very personal, however. It really is as if we havethe best seats in an outdoor drama on a massive stage.

As you view, you may wish to make a note of the shots that seem to workbest to the modern viewer. In the early part of the film, for instance,(just before the "Passion" sequence), Demetrius runs toward the camerain search of Jesus, after he's been beaten down by the Roman guardsoutside the gates of Jerusalem. An old lady sitting behind him on thecobbled pathway, has just finished tending his wounds. The shot isterrific, and works for modern audiences very well. Unlike a lot of thefilm, where much of the direction seems to be subjected to the demandsof the CinemaScope process, this shot contains a dynamism that beguilesthe film's age. Why? Because it uses the three dimensions of the set,along with arresting and dramatic movement, as Demetrius runsdiagonally toward the camera and beyond us, toward the Crucifixion,which we see in the next sequence.

Another sequence that really works well is the chase in the secondhalf. It is arguably the most dramatic sequence in the entire picture,and certainly uses CinemaScope to best effect, as the horses thundertoward the audience. Over fifty years later, and it would be hard tobetter.

By contrast, most of the film is played out in tableaux form, withaction taking place across the width of the screen on lavish butshallow sets. The camera is a passive observer, unlike modern 'epics',which usually use very fluid camera set-ups along withcomputer-generated imagery (CGI). The actual crucifixion (masterful inwhat it does not show, by the way) is indeed an actual still lifetableau, and could have easily been lifted straight out of theOberammergau passion play. I do not say this to put the film down -this actually is a brilliant move, as it makes the action faithful tothe genre of the passion play, which originally was played outexclusively through short tableaux.

In this writing, my aim has been simply to help you consideralternative ways of viewing this, and other, historic motion pictures.Particularly, you may wish to take note of the sometimes unusual waythe film uses: (a) framing, (b) shot length, (c) staging, (d) cameramovements, (e) the use (or rather, the almost total lack of use) ofclose ups and 'cut-away' shots, (f) lighting, and the (g) music scoreand dialogue. Of course, there is much more to note: the use ofdissolves and fades, which helps underline the 'epic' grandeur of everysequence. And I've not even touched on the story line or the acting.(Question: how might it have played as a silent movie?)

In today's post-modernist society, the Passion play formula, with itsemphasis on objective truth, may well gain renewed importance, sincethe narrative of Christ's passion may be in danger of becoming yet onemore voice crying in a commercial wilderness devoid of ultimate human(and Godly) values of truth, goodness and conviction. The story ofJesus stands out as unique however it is viewed. The simple reason: thestory of the Passion indeed IS unique! (Which is one reason why Iconsider it a 'genre' in its own right.) I contend, therefore, that"The Robe" is an important contribution to American cinema, boththeologically and cinematographically; one among a select number ofmotion pictures, spanning over one hundred years of history, that everystudent should have opportunity to view and discuss at least oncewhilst still in full time education.

A sidebar: "The Robe" really needs to be watched in 'letterbox' ( the original format), which on a small display does not do thepicture justice. With HDTV coming along, look out for a digitalre-release that will restore the original to its pristine glory. (Also,a side-by-side comparison with the Academy format version - shot at thesame time - would be beneficial.) Best of all, of course, arrange toget it screened in your local art house cinema, and see it as it ismeant to be viewed: on the big screen.